Welcome to the 19th “Share Your Story” post. Pilots from around the world write in featuring their flight experiences, promoting their blogs, websites, social media, novels, etc. These posts show future aviators the diverse range of careers available to them. More details + how to participate can be found via the following: Click Here and Get Involved

Today, the blog brings you the first part of a really great post from Tommy Jernejcic. Tommy is a flight instructor, ex-Fedex Feeder C208 Caravan Pilot, and current Surf Air Pilatus PC12 Pilot. This first part will detail Tommy’s experiences flying as a Fedex Feeder Pilot. Next week will feature his experience flying with Surf Air. Thanks Tommy for writing in!

How apropos that Swayne would graciously send me a request to write a blog post about my aviation story during the same week that the next chapter was about to begin.  As I sit in the very same Starbucks where I’ve spent countless hours studying Jepp textbooks and pouring over approach plates, I can’t help but reminisce about how I got to where I finally am today- a young professional aviator, already with enough stories to fill a book, yet still with more adventures to be had!

…But I guess THAT’S the key right there.  Even though the vast majority of pilots are motivated and driven Type-A personalities who thrive on routine and seem to have a penchant toward at least moderate OCD, it’s the unimaginable and unknown that beckons us skyward.  Charles Lindbergh said it best: “Real freedom lies in wildness, not in civilization.”

An Ontario Sunrise

While I can only speak for myself, I would bet that whether or not we have individually come to this same conclusion, it is at the deepest level of who we are as aviators.  It’s why we simply smile when people, be it family or strangers, give us a puzzled look and ask us why flying means so much to us.  After all, it’s just another form of transportation, isn’t it?…

The C208 at SBP

But I digress!  So just how did this average guy from suburban Southern California end up landing (honestly, no pun intended) his dream job, and in his dream airplane no less?!  Well like most flights, it started with a thought, then a plan, and finally takeoff.  There were, however, a few in-flight diversions on the way that I’ll skip over for brevity.  Unlike many others, I didn’t grow up around airplanes or have any family or friends who were pilots.  My fascination with aviation began when I was a kid watching Tailspin, a Disney cartoon that was loosely based on the characters from “The Jungle Book” combined with “The Rocketeer.”  Fast planes, air pirates, gangsters, and the Golden Age of Aviation- what more could you ask for?!

It wouldn’t be until many years later, however, that I would have my first real flying experiences, as a cadet at the US Air Force Academy while taking an autumn soaring course.  After about twelve instruction flights, I was set loose on my first solo flight over the foothills of the Rocky Mountains on what had to be one of the most beautiful, crisp mornings ever!  Immediately after liftoff, in-tow of a Piper Super Cub, I knew right then that I didn’t just want to be a pilot- I HAD to be a pilot!  “Murphy” and his law had other plans for my Air Force career though, resulting in a “reroute” that at first seemed devastating but, as I look back now, worked out for the best.  (Cue those dreaded words from ATC: “I have an amendment to your clearance. Advise ready to copy.”

Finally in March of 2007 I emerged from the ATP, Inc. flight training program as a fully-fledged CFI/CFII/MEI and began instructing at the French Valley Airport (F70) in Southern California.  I was privileged to teach there full-time for four years, alongside the excellent staff at Executive Flight Institute.  Together we enjoyed the benefits of a then-booming economy, as well as weathered the following economic downturn.  In addition to my flying duties, I was also our flight school’s go-to-guy whenever local middle and high schools called and asked for a representative for their career day events.  Being able to educate and motivate the next generation of aviators has always been one of the chief highlights of my career, and I have always seen it as a practical, and indeed the very least, way in which I can give back to that which has meant so much to me.  During my tenure as a full-time CFI I was able to fine tune my own skills and knowledge, and I had opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had, including flying a *slightly* extended cross-country trip from Southern California to Key West and back in a Piper Seneca, with my student and good friend.  That unforgettable flight is a story all of its own!

CFI Mode

As much as I enjoyed flight instructing (and still do), I was getting anxious to get back in the left seat and advance my career.  So when I had the chance to fly the Cessna Caravan for West Air, California’s FedEx Feeder, I jumped on the opportunity.  Life as a single-pilot freight dog meant long days and challenging flying, but getting to fly one of my favorite airplanes throughout a state as diverse as California was incredibly rewarding.

While I started out as a reserve pilot, filling in open routes around the state, I was able to bid my own route after about six months.

Delivering a Christmas Tree

For the next year and a half I flew the route between Ontario (ONT) and Inyokern (IYK).  It was the perfect route for me as I was home every night, and the type of flying required was anything but routine.  Inyokern is located in the Mojave Desert north of Edwards AFB, but just south of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at the opening of what is known as the Owen’s Valley.  It’s an area notorious for severe turbulence, windshear, high density altitude, mountain waves, and other “fun.”

Tommy Landing at IYK

In addition, for our operations it was a VFR only airport due the fact that it lies in a very busy MOA.  This meant that I would depart IFR out of ONT and then have to cancel IFR by Palmdale, and then continue VFR for the remaining 70 miles.  If unable to cancel, I would fly an instrument approach into nearby WJF and cancel once under the weather.

Flying Over IYK

If the flying wasn’t enough to keep things interesting, the freight I often carried was the cream filling of the Twinkie.  Inyokern is just seven miles east of China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, the US Navy’s largest land base and the location where they develop and test their latest technology.  Delivering everything from aircraft parts to missile engines is what gave me the idea to start my “Box of the Day” photo series on Instagram and Twitter. Here are two interesting boxes:

It was also during this time that Swayne first contacted me about contributing an article about my aviation experiences.  Little did either of us know that things were just about to change…

Check back in everyone for next week’s Part 2 of Tommy’s “Share Your Story” Post. Surf Air is an amazing, new company… you’ll definitely want to check it out.

Tommy, it was really interesting to read about your flying throughout the West with Fedex Feeder. The scenery is amazing. That really is a dream job!

Thanks again for writing in and participating in the Share Your Story section of the blog,

Swayne Martin 
Martins Aviation / From Private to Professional Pilot
Twitter: @MartinsAviation
Youtube: MartinsAviation1 

About The Author

Swayne Martin

I started this website to show you why you'll love becoming a pilot. As an owner and editor of Boldmethod Pilot Training, I've spent years working with pilots all around the world to make their dreams a reality. For a full bio, click the "About" tab above. Use the "Contact" tab to shoot me a message.

6 Responses

  1. Brent at iflyblog.com

    Fun read! I can’t wait to catch part 2. Pilot careers are rarely cookie-cutter and it’s fun to read each person’s story!

    Good stuff Swayne!

    Brent over at iFLYblog

    Reply
    • Swayne Martin

      Thanks Brent, glad you enjoyed it! I love the “Share Your Story” section because it can show future pilots the diverse range of options available to them.

      Thanks again,
      -Swayne

      Reply
  2. capnaux

    Great story, Tommy!

    I always thought a Caravan would be a sweet ride…and love your “box of the day”, great idea! Gonna steal that fabulous Lindbergh quote for the next printing of “The Last Bush Pilots!”

    Thanks for you story, and thanks for the post, Swayne. Your blog is really evolving well! (Now I’m taking notes from you, LOL!) 😉
    Cap’n Aux

    Reply
    • Swayne Martin

      Thanks for the comment Cap’n Aux! I really enjoy the “Share Your Story” section, it does a good job of connecting people.

      Hope flying has been going well,
      -Swayne

      Reply
  3. Jack Doub

    As a retired USAF fighter-pilot and later commercial pilot, I wonder how you young folks are building hours now that the minimums have been raised considerably?

    As a young USAF Aviation Cadet we went from zero hours to our wings in about 16 months. Primary was in the beech T-34, then the T-28. Jet training for we fighter guys was in the T-33, graduating with a total of 240 hours. Then it was off to fighter gunnery training for about six months and you’d join your first squadron with maybe 300 hours total time.

    How in the world are you young guys building time now?
    In this case it seems to have been CFI, freight dog, then on to Surf Air. Are there enough seats for everyone to go that route?

    Are most folks trying for the major airlines or are the regionals paying well enough. (I’ll never forget chatting with a west coast commuter first officer who was starting at $1100 a month?)

    That’s almost criminal when, as a captain with a major, you’ll pull down $175-250K. I hope we can keep ambitious young folks like yourselves. it’s a great career!

    Cheers and chek6… J.D.

    Reply

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